September 21, 2006
Finding native speakers of your target language
Wrote this comment elsewhere and thought it might be worth posting here. The question: how to you find native speakers of your target language when you live in an area where English speakers are the vast majority?
All in all, Skype makes it very easy to find conversation partners. I’ve been practicing with native Japanese for more than a year now, mostly through The Mixxer (www.language-exchanges.org). I was advised by a Japanese friend to put “language exchange” in my Skype profile, and have since had several people contact me because of that.
Apart from Skype, I face a similar situation: I live in a small city in the midwestern US where there aren’t many foreigners. I met my first Japanese person ever in 2004 when I stumbled upon a local Japanese “conversation group” by chance. Later I found that you can track down similar groups via meetup.com.
If you’re lucky, you might wind up working at a job with native speakers of your target language as coworkers. In my previous job I worked with native speakers of Mandarin, Russian, Hindi and Gujarati. At my current job I’ve met a Chinese guy who speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese, along with a Vietnamese speaker or two.
It’d be great if a website existed like The Mixxer but for real-life contacts, but I don’t think one exists. Stay tuned, though.
Otherwise, I think you’ll have to track down native speakers in your local area by figuring out where they are. Seek out a foreign market or bakery or restaurant. If your town has a church that caters to a particular language or ethnic group, you can meet people there. Find some local ESL teachers and volunteer to spend time with a speaker of your language of interest. Contact a local college and ask about meeting people who speak your target language. Predominantly English-speaking (and, let’s face it, white) areas may very well contain groups of people who speak your target language (my city of 500K is supposed to contain native speakers of 62 languages), but they often stay low-key. Seek them out and they will love to meet you.